IMF Mission in Tunisia to Assess Advancement of Economic Reforms


Tunis – An International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission has kicked off a new phase of talks with Tunisian authorities on the advancement of economic reforms, as part of the loan agreement.

The mission asserted that the IMF will maintain its support for the economic reforms, which will accelerate the development pace in Tunisia.

During his meeting with Ziad Al-Athari, minister of international cooperation and development on Friday, the mission’s head Bjoern Rother praised the efforts of Youssef al-Shahed’s government over the few past months to preserve financial balances.

Athari stressed the importance of the IMF’s understanding of the difficult economic situation in the country, highlighting its role in cooperating Tunisia in this phase to ensure the success of its nascent democratic experience.

The government is determined to promote investment as a cornerstone to enhance growth and wealth, work on supporting the public-private partnerships as a mechanism to accelerate the completion of important projects and decrease the financial pressures on the state budget.

The IMF’s mission’s visit to Tunisia comes as part of a review of the economic reforms and funding of $2.9 billion allocated to support the economic reform program.

Ezzeddine Saidan, a Tunisian economist said: “The IMF mission has not come to Tunisia for tourism, but to look at the developments of the Tunisian economic situation, aims of the draft fiscal law for the coming year, and the most important economic axes proposed within the structural reform program, along with preparing for the completion of the second review of the economic program supported by the Fund in the framework of facilitating the loan.”

He added that Tunisia has prepared for this visit by establishing a new ministerial portfolio, the Ministry of Economic Reform, which may convince the IMF to pay the third installment of the loan before the end of November.

Saidan expected that the IMF will eventually approve the new installment of the loan, after a short period of pressure on the Tunisian authorities to stress the importance of economic reforms for the Tunisian economy to achieve a real recovery.

Tunisia received the first and second installments of the IMF loan, valued at $ 628.8 million. Now, it is waiting the Fund’s approval on paying the third installment, which is estimated at nearly $370 million (about 875 million Tunisian dinars).

According to most economic observers in Tunisia, the country deeply needs those loans paid in hard currency to revive the local economy, cover part of the budget deficit after the collapse of the Tunisian dinar and survive the slow economic growth and the instability of the trade balance.

French Development Agency’s Commitments to Tunisia to Reach 1.2 Billion Euros

Tunis- The French Development Agency (AFD) has renewed its EUR 1.2 billion commitment to finance projects over the next five years.

In a statement to TAP on the sidelines of a press conference held on Monday to celebrate the agency’s 25th anniversary, AFD Director Gilles Chausse recalled that the French authorities announced at the Tunisia 2020 conference, which was held in November 2016, the commitment of EUR 1.2 billion, which will finance investment projects part of the five-year development plan (2016/2020).

He said the AFD will focus on traditional intervention sectors, including vocational training, transport and agriculture and is expected to open on other sectors such as health, ICTs, social protection and governance in which a number of operations are already underway such as the governance of public enterprises.

Tunisian authorities are waiting for several countries, which had participated in the Tunisia 2020 international conference by making financial promises, to meet their pledges.

At the time Prime Min­ister Youssef Chahed said the investment conference enabled Tu­nisia to mobilize 34 billion dinars ($15 billion).

In this regard, Tunisian economic expert Saad Boumakhle said that the initiative of several international financial bodies to fund investment projects in Tunisia would have positive effects on the country’s economy, which is badly in need for such funds to provide job opportunities for hundreds of thousands of unemployed Tunisians.

The expert said a Tunisian-French program supports Tunisian exports to French markets, providing financial returns in hard currency if the doors for export were wide open to Tunisian institutions.

In 2016, AFD granted Tunisia donations of EUR 4.2 million following the signature of two funding agreements.

Libyan Committee Discusses Structure of Presidential Council

Ghassan Salame, UN Libya envoy, arrives for a meeting in Tunis

Tunis– The unified committee entrusted with amending the Skhirat Agreement met with representatives of Libya’s various political parties on Saturday, for the fifth consecutive day, in the presence of UN Envoy Ghassan Salameh.

While no concrete results were reached to amend the agreement signed in 2015, the committee discussed the structure and authorities of the presidential council and the cabinet, as well as the mechanism to choose the members of the council.

According to Libyan sources, which participated in the political dialogue sessions, the committee has avoided to suggest names to fill State institutions posts, in order to prevent disagreements that might hamper the progress of the talks in a positive atmosphere.

Since the launch of talks in the Tunisian capital last week, the unified committee, which is formed of 16 members representing Libyan Parliament and the High State Council, has failed to agree on the authorities of the presidential council and the mechanism to give confidence to the cabinet.

In this regard, many observers talked about the existence of several obstacles to the intra-Libyan dialogue, noting that reaching concrete solutions required “common concessions for a unified Libya”.

The Libyan political dialogue meetings in Tunis are aimed at putting an end to the transitional phase in the country by holding presidential and parliamentary elections next spring.

The proposed amendments to the Skhirat Agreement include five main points, the most important of which is Article 8, which specifies the powers of the supreme commander of the Libyan armed forces.

During the closed-door dialogue sessions, participants also discussed the African Union peace plan that was issued during the recent meeting in Brazzaville, and the Libyan parties considered that relying on an African Union peacekeeping force in the first stage to secure the basic pillars for restoring stability in Libya might be one of the solutions to overcome political instability at the end of the transitional period.

Tunisia Unveils Takfiri Ring in Contact with Fugitive Terrorists

Tunisian security forces stand near the Ras Ajdir crossing on the country's border with Libya, close to Ben Guerdane

Tunisia- Tunisian Defense Minister Abdelkareem Zubaidi pledged emboldened support to the military establishment, in addition to securing the provision of adequate equipment for combating terrorist organizations.

Overseeing the meeting of the armed forces coordinators, Zubaidi said that his priority was to head the Tunisian Ministry of Defense with the necessary equipment and improve the working environment, remaining fully prepared and vigilant for potential terrorist threats.

The Tunisian military successfully confronted with the terrorist attack on Ben Gardane on 7 March 2016. Terrorists who attacked the border town with Libya suffered significant losses of life and had their plot thwarted.

Tunisia’s military servicemen continuously monitored all potential terrorist threats and established a buffer zone on the eastern border with Libya and a closed military zone in the western center of Tunisia nearby where terrorist organizations threaten infiltrating into the country.

Terror groups long made strong threats against Tunisia’s security and stability.

In the same context, Zubaidi stressed the need to protect the areas of production of natural resources (phosphate and other energy forms) and considered it a priority for the national military during the next phase.

In July, Tunisian President Mohamed Beji Caid Essebsi issued a presidential order allowing the military to secure natural energy sites and those concerned with national wealth production against social protests.

The Tunisian Interior Ministry announced that in a “proactive and qualitative” security operation, forces were able to discover a takfiri terror cell operating in the province of Nabeul, 60 kilometers northeast of the Tunisian capital, and said its elements were in contact with other Tunisian terrorists.

Through initial security investigations, interior ministry sources confirmed that this cell was planning to carry out attacks targeting vital institutions in Tunisia.

Same sources pointed to the arrest of three terror-linked members accused of joining a wider web of wanted “terrorist organization.”

The three arrested had in their possession documents on how to make improvised explosive devices and terror plot instructions for targets in Tunisia.

Tunisia Welcomes Haftar, Seeks to Revive Comprehensive Solution Initiative


Tunis – The Commander of the Libyan Army, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, arrived on Monday in Tunis upon the invitation of President Beji Caid Essebsi, within a Tunisian attempt to revive its initiative of a comprehensive solution to the Libyan crisis.

Haftar’s first official visit to Tunisia follows his participation in the meeting of the African Union (AU) High-Level Committee on Libya, in Brazzaville, Congo.

It also comes in the wake of regional and international attempts to solve the Libyan crisis, amid competition over a share of reconstruction plans that stimulate the appetite of several countries and to stop illegal immigration to a number of northern Mediterranean states.

A statement by the Tunisian presidential office said that Essebsi and Haftar discussed “the principles and objectives of the initiative launched by Tunisia, with the engagement of Algeria and Egypt, and which was welcomed by the various Libyan parties and supported by international forces.”

The Tunisian president stressed that the solution to the crisis “remains in the hands of the Libyan people”, explaining that the role of Tunisia and neighboring countries was limited to facilitating dialogue between the different Libyan components within the framework of cooperation and coordination with the United Nations.

According to the Tunisian presidency, Haftar underlined the importance of Tunisia’s support to the Libyan people, especially in their efforts to fight terrorism.

In remarks following the meeting, Haftar vowed to “eradicate terrorism”.

“We have heard a good word from the president and our vision is consistent with his vision,” he said.

“We talked about the situation in our country, which is being subjected to a serious attack by terrorists; but we have a strong army that has confronted these groups and we believe that the story of terrorism in Libya will end soon,” he added.

According to well-informed Tunisian sources, the two officials also discussed the possibility of holding a meeting between Haftar and the head of the national reconciliation government, Fayez al-Sarraj in Tunisia, “in support of UN efforts to resolve the Libyan crisis.”

Haftar met on Monday with the US Ambassador to Libya, Peter Bodde, who is temporarily residing in Tunisia, before heading to the Carthage Palace to meet with Essebsi.

Next Tuesday, the Tunisian capital is set to host meetings between the parties to the Libyan dialogue to discuss a formula to amend the Skhirat political agreement, which was signed by the end of 2015.

Tunisia: Govt Rehabilitation Program for Returning Terrorists

Tunisian anti-terrorism brigade officers lead their dogs after a shooting at the Bouchoucha military base in Tunis,

Tunisia- The Tunisian government announced a new program to rehabilitate fighters returning from terror zones.

A group of Tunisian ministries, including the ministries of justice, interior, foreign affairs and defense, are preparing an integrated rehabilitation program before the end of the current year to be included in next year’s budget, which will be discussed by the Tunisian parliament before the end of 2017.

The Tunisian authorities seek to develop the appropriate legal ground to accommodate the return of terrorist fighters from hotbeds of tension in Syria, Libya and Iraq and reintegrate them into the Tunisian society.

In the draft budget for the coming year (2018), large initial financial allocations have been approved, according to the Tunisian Committee on Combating Terrorism and Extremism (a government committee).

The government program excluded terrorists found guilty of murder, slaughter and other acts that are classified as crimes against humanity.

Tunisian security experts told Asharq Al-Awsat that leaders of ISIS will not return to Tunisia, and that those who will return will mainly include middle cadres and fighters.

In this context, Expert on Islamic groups Aliya al-Alani stressed that the number of fighters who will return to Tunisia will not exceed 2,000 fighters as most of the fighters were killed in Libya, Syria and Iraq.

“The actual number of combatants is not known by any government agency or human rights group because many terrorists have infiltrated illegally into conflict zones and used twisted roads to reach Syria and Iraq, including passing through Libya, Turkey and a number of Eastern European countries,” Alani told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The preparation of this government program in Tunisia responds to the United Nations Security Council resolution on “foreign fighters”, which is also the embodiment of the Tunisian strategy to combat extremism and terrorism.

According to the latest official statistics provided by the Tunisian Interior Ministry, the number of Tunisian terrorists abroad is estimated to be 2,929 terrorists, and the number of terrorists that have returned to Tunisia from hotbeds of tension between 2012 and 2016 is estimated to be at 800.

Tunisia Lifts Ban on Muslim Women Marrying non-Muslims


Tunisia- The Tunisian government lifted on Thursday the ban on Muslim women marrying non-Muslim foreigners, a step that triggered a legal and social controversy among conservative Islamic blocs and liberal and left-wing blocs.

“Congratulations to the women of Tunisia for the enshrinement of the right to the freedom to choose one’s spouse,” presidency spokeswoman Saida Garrach posted on Thursday.

The announcement came a month after President Beji Caid Essebsi called for the government to lift the ban dating back to 1973, preventing Muslim Tunisian women from marrying a non-Muslim.

In a related matter, the opposition and civil society in Tunisia have expressed concerns over the democratic transition after the parliament enacted a controversial amnesty law for those involved in corruption during the former regime term.

Monica Marks, a researcher at Oxford University, said the law’s passage was “a huge symbolic victory for impunity. It signals a green light, from the top of Tunisia’s state institutions to individuals engaged in abuses of power.”

The bill grants an amnesty to businessmen and Ben Ali officials on trial for corruption, in exchange for returning ill-gotten money plus paying a fine. In the face of growing public anger, the text was revised to cover only officials accused of involvement in administrative corruption, not those who received bribes.

The presidency defended the law, saying it would enhance the investment climate in a country undergoing an economic crisis.

“The law applies to around 2,000 senior officials who did not receive any bribes,” cabinet director Selim Azzabi said to AFP, adding it would affect people who “received instructions and applied them without profiting.” He said the law could boost Tunisia’s economic growth up to 1.2 percent.

Others say it could even represent a return to authoritarian practices. Amna Guellali of Human Rights Watch said the law “risks perpetuating practices inherited from the old regime” and places the young democracy on a bad slope.

Nidaa Tounes, which includes members of the former regime, welcomed the adoption of the law as it paves the way for a new stage of reconciliation and union.

“Ultimately, Ennahda – despite being the party most persecuted by the old regime, including old regime officials likely to be amnestied by the Reconciliation Law – prefers to preserve coalition with Nidaa Party,” Marks said.

Tunisia: Bin Ali Era Sparks off Controversy again

Tunis- A Tunisian parliamentary session set to consider the draft reconciliation law witnessed on Wednesday tension and discontent, especially from opposition parties who reject giving Amnesty to figures from the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, including corrupt officials.

Despite that, parliament still approved the controversial amnesty.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered to take part in the “I will not forgive” protests in front of parliament. It was reported that the law had the approval of 117 deputies, which included the exemption of former officials involved in corruption scandals from prosecution.

In this regard, opposition leader Ghazi al-Shawashi said that the parliament “is waiting for the response of the Supreme Council to decide on the draft reconciliation law, and as long as that consultations did not conclude, the parliament session is useless.”

The bill on financial and economic reconciliation proposed by President Beji Caid Essebsi in July 2015 faced fierce opposition from civil society. But debate was postponed after criticism that the original bill benefited business elites tied to the government.

At Wednesday’s session, tensions flared between the ruling coalition and the opposition lawmakers, who said the Supreme Judicial Council had not yet given its answer after being consulted by the parliament on the legality of the “Economic Reconciliation” bill.

Despite the consensus between secular and conservative parties that helped the country’s transition toward democracy, the bill has divided Tunisians between those who want to draw a line under the past and those who say they must deal with past draft.

Since the 2011 uprising, Tunisia has been held up by Western partners as a model of democracy for the region. Economic progress has lagged, though, and corruption remains a major problem in the North African state.

After months of protests, the bill was amended from an original draft which would have also granted amnesty to corrupt businessmen. As it stands, they will be liable to prosecution for crimes committed during Ben Ali’s 24-year rule.

Ben Ali’s Ministers Take Over New Scene in Tunisia

Tunisia's PM-designate Youssef Chahed speaks during a news conference after his meeting with Tunisia's President Beji Caid Essebsi in Tunis

Tunisia- The expanded cabinet reshuffle in Tunisia included the return of senior ministers from the regime of former President Zine El Abidine ben Ali despite ongoing debate over national reconciliation.

The most prominent feature of the reshuffle was the appointment of senior security official Lotfi Brahim as interior minister, replacing former security minister Hadi Majdoub.

Brahim’s appointment received support from the ruling party, Nidaa Tounes, and the security syndicates. Lotfi is the former commander-in-chief of the Tunisian National Guard.

Former Defense Minister Abdelkarim Zbidi returned to his post that he had between 2011 and 2013.
Zbidi was known mainly as one of Ben Ali’s ministers, and he has held various portfolios during his reign, most notably Minister of Health in 2001 and Minister of Scientific Research in 2002.

For his part, leader of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party Naaman al-Ash criticized the new cabinet structure and said it included symbols of the former regime.

Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed also reassigned Ridha Chalghoum, a former finance minister close to the ruling Nidaa Tounes party, to the same position.

Radhouane Ayara, a former member of the dissolved Democratic Constitutional Rally Party, became the minister of transport, and Naziha Laabidi, a former member of the National Progressive Unionist (Tagammu) Party’s central committee, became the minister of women, family and children.

Hatem Ben Salem, a former diplomat and the last minister of education in Ben Ali’s regime, was named to fill the same post, which has been vacant since the dismissal of former minister Naji Jalul last April despite reservations by syndicate and opposition parties.

Chahed said Monday that his new cabinet will be a “war government that will fight terrorism and corruption.”

“We need to expand the circle of political consensus and national unity and this is the basis for our choices in the recent reform,” Chahed added in a speech to the Tunisian parliament.

Tunisia Breaks up Terrorist Cell Sending Youth to Hotbed of Extremism

Tunis- The Tunisian Ministry of Interior has broken up a terrorist cell that sends youth to hotbeds of militancy in Tajerouine town in Kef Governorate, 160 km northwest of Tunis.

The ministry said that anti-terrorist security apparatuses have arrested two members of the cell and issued charges against them on “suspicion of joining a terrorist organization” in Libya and Syria.

The two suspects admitted to investigators that they have been coordinating with a takfiri element in a neighboring country and that they are linked to two Tunisian fugitive terrorists, according to official information.

Earlier this year, Tunisia set up a parliamentary commission of inquiry into sending youth to terrorist hotbeds and promised to reveal the parties facilitating the process of thousands of Tunisians joining extremist organizations.

In this context, Assistant Rapporteur Laila Shtewi said in a press statement that the committee will soon hear the testimony of a number of former ministers, who mainly functioned between 2012 and 2014, which witnessed the peak of activity by networks that sent Tunisian youth to areas of tension in Libya, Syria and Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Tunisian Interior Ministry said that it has arrested a takfiri element residing in Moknine following a tip-off on his whereabouts and after he was sentenced to prison in absentia.

The anti-terrorism unit in Monastir confirmed that the detainee was being pursued at the request of the Tunis Court of First Instance on charges of joining a terrorist organization, citing a three-year prison sentence for his participation in terrorist acts.

Notably, Tunisian security reports confirm that dozens of Tunisians have joined terrorist organizations in Syria and have passed through Libya, where they were trained to use weapons and make explosives.

Some have returned to Tunisia to commit terrorist acts such as the attack that was carried out by Jaber al-Khashnawi and Yassine al-Obeidi and targeted the Bardo National Museum on March 18, 2015 and Saifuddin Rizki’s attack in a tourist resort in Sousse on June 26, 2015.